Swami Chetanananda was introduced to Kashmir Shaivism in the early 1980's. Recognizing that the treatises written by the practitioners of this tradition described much of his own experience, Swamiji studied Shaivism in depth. He spent time with Swami Lakshmanjoo in Srinigar and has collaborated with major scholars and sponsored translations of many important Shaiva texts. Kashmir Shaivism is a general designation referring to the dualistic and nondualistic schools of thought that emerged in Kashmir, in northwest India. From about 700 to 1100 c.e., Kashmir was the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual center for some of the most sophisticated spiritual practitioners of the time. Kashmir Shaivism, a branch of Tantric Shaivism, arose from the experience of these dedicated practitioners, who also happened to be skilled articulators of their experiences.
The inspired writings and commentaries by these philosophers, poets, and artists represents much of the work that we today identify as the embodiment of their rich culture. Their careful expression of their inner experiences produced a unique and highly refined organization of a number of strands of Tantrism existing in India from ancient times.
The practitioners of nondualistic Kashmir Shaivism systematized the Shaivite teachings of antiquity. They came to view the world as absolute Consciousness, which they called Shiva. This Consciousness, being both one and free, creative and self-reflective, was revealed as the fundamental I, or Divine Self. Thus, Kashmir Shaivism emphasizes the inner Self. The systematic growth of Kashmir Shaivism unfolded as practitioners reflected on the nature of the highest reality, describing it as pure Consciousness. This pure Consciousness is conceived of as not inert, but dynamic, with its dynamism being a quality that is not separate from that Consciousness.
The fundamental philosophical assertion of Kashmir Shaivism is that our existence is nothing but the boundless energy of Consciousness. It is a celebration of the creative power in every individual and the recognition of every person’s power of free choice.
When early Shaiva masters looked for ways to talk about their experience of Consciousness, they pointed to different encounters with the world around them to describe it. Their most basic insight was that the infinite is not merely energy, but conscious energy. This is the foundation of all reality as we know it.
It is, they went on to say, a pure awareness that is utterly still. At the same time, this conscious energy is dynamic. This is because life is not only stillness but also motion and vitality. So right from the start they were asserting a paradox about the Absolute, saying that it is stillness and a dynamic vitality. God, they said, is a dynamic stillness.